In Peru, Sexuality Education in Schools Must Be Strengthened

Schools Support Sexuality Education but Must Bridge Gaps to Fully Implement It

There is strong demand and support for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in Peru, but a recent study indicates that current teaching on the subject is not meeting the needs of adolescents. Researchers from the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute conducted a survey of 61 secondary schools that focused on CSE curricula and their implementation for students aged 15–17 in three geographically and culturally different areas of Peru: Lima (coast), Ayacucho (Andes) and Ucayali (rainforest).

According to international standards set by the United Nations and other agencies, CSE should cover a range of topics, which fit into five key categories identified by the study team: sexual and reproductive physiology; HIV/STI prevention; contraception and unintended pregnancy; values and interpersonal skills; and gender and sexual and reproductive rights. CSE is important to ensure that adolescents and young people lead healthy sexual and reproductive lives, in terms of both their physical well-being and relationships. The Peruvian government produced guidelines for CSE in 2008 that still have not been thoroughly implemented due to a lack of political will by the government at various times. This has resulted in limited funding to train teachers and monitor and evaluate sexuality education programs.

Researchers found that there is widespread support for sexuality education in Peruvian school systems: Virtually all surveyed students, teachers and principals believed it should be taught, and 92% of students who had received some type of sexuality education considered it useful in their personal lives. However, while 75% of students reported learning about at least one topic in each of the five main CSE categories, only 9% of students reported that they had learned all of the topics necessary for sexuality education to be considered comprehensive.

Three out of four teachers who participated in the study said a major obstacle to teaching sexuality education in Peru was a lack of teaching materials and resources. While a national CSE curriculum exists, fewer than half of teachers reported having access to lesson plans or national textbooks on the subject. In addition, fewer than half of surveyed teachers had received training in sexuality education before teaching the subject.

"In addition to logistical and budgetary obstacles, we found that 61% of surveyed teachers thought that students’ parents opposed comprehensive sexuality education, and that may also have been an obstacle for complete implementation—until now," says Dr. Angélica Motta, a researcher at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and lead author of the study. "We found that the vast majority of Peruvian students said their parents support comprehensive sexuality education."

Topics related to contraception and unintended pregnancy, such as where to obtain contraceptives and how to use them, are among the areas that students reported were least covered by sexuality education. In a country like Peru, where one in seven adolescent girls has become pregnant or given birth, it is essential for young women to have knowledge of these topics to prevent unintended pregnancy and related negative health outcomes. Previous studies have shown that the maternal mortality rate among adolescents is more than double that of Peruvian women as a whole.

In addition to information and practical skills related to contraception and unintended pregnancy, education about gender equality and healthy relationships is crucial in Peru. The study’s authors found that one-fourth of surveyed students thought that when young women say no to sex, they really mean yes.

"Teaching students about consent, equality and how to communicate within relationships is paramount," says Dr. Sarah Keogh, senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute and a coauthor of the study. "Four out of five reported rapes in Peru are committed against girls under the age of 18—and Peru has the highest rate of reported rape in South America, according to international data."

Overall, the implementation of CSE in Peru must progress significantly to meet national and international standards, despite the fact that it is technically required and school officials strongly support it. The study’s authors suggest that current gaps in implementation might be best addressed by a more robust legal framework that creates a strong national program dedicated to compulsory CSE. Better training and systematic evaluation of sexuality education teachers are crucial steps for the current CSE guidelines to be effectively implemented, and particular attention must be given to addressing key topics such as contraception, communication skills, and equality between women and men. Also, teaching resources and materials—which many teachers currently lack—must be made widely available. Sexuality education that is fully comprehensive is crucial to equip adolescents with the knowledge and skills they need to develop into healthy adults.

This study was made possible by grants from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the donors.


For more information, see the full report:

"From Paper to Practice: Sexuality Education Policies and Their Implementation in Peru," by Angélica Motta, Sarah C. Keogh, Elena Prada, Arón Núnez-Curto, Kelika Konda, Melissa Stillman and Carlos F. Cáceres (currently available in Spanish only).